Share this article

print logo

STOCKPILING Y2K-RATIONS
WATER LEADS A STEADY FLOW OF SALES

The shopping cart contained soda pop and other fixings for the New Year's Eve party Linda Wild is having in her Amherst home.

"I'll show you where my Y2K stuff is," she said, pointing to the shelf underneath the cart that's usually reserved for big items such as bags of charcoal.

On the shelf were a half-dozen large cans of tomatoes, another half-dozen bags of beans, a large bag of rice and a few other essentials, the latest additions to her Y2K larder.

The day before the last day of the century, people were making preparations for New Year's Eve celebrations, and hedging their bets in case predictions of a disabling millennium bug come true.

The projected problems are familiar to just about everyone. Because certain older computers recorded the year by its last two digits, there is the possibility they may malfunction at midnight tonight when the digits change from "99" to "00."

No one is sure what the consequences might be, but the theories have ranged from blackouts to failure of automatic teller machines. And while most people at supermarkets and hardware stores Thursday were confident there will be no major disturbances, more than a few weren't taking any chances.

"We're so dependent on technology (and) there's always the possibility of a kook," said Wild, who was shopping at a Wegmans store in East Amherst. "We can get through 10 days to two weeks" with the stockpile she has assembled over the past month.

Sales of water and food, batteries, heaters, generators and lamps were brisk around Western New York this week as people tried to put extra provisions aside just in case.

The biggest seller?

"Three words," said Wegmans spokesperson Ann McCarthy. "Water, water, water."

Wegmans, and other sellers of this most essential of elements, were prepared for that. They made sure there was plenty in stock, a hunch that appears to have paid off.

"It's been steady sales, steady restocking," McCarthy said. "It hasn't been last-minute. People are picking up a gallon here or there, and this week, a couple of gallons here or there."

Bottled water has also been flowing out of local Tops Supermarkets, said spokeswoman Stefanie Zakowicz.

"We've at least doubled our sales in water over the last week," she said. "Prior to that, it was also selling briskly."

Anyone who sells water stands to have a very profitable last week of 1999. Mayer Brothers, the West Seneca company best-known for its cider, branched out into the water business about 11 years ago.

"We shipped more product this month than we ever have in any month," division manager Bob Irvine said. "We're probably going to ship about 800 trailer loads to wholesalers. On our regular delivery trucks, we'll deliver another 40,000 to 50,000 five-gallon jugs, which is probably twice the normal volume."

The bad news for Irvine? "I think I'm going to have a terrible January."

Even Consumers Beverage, which bills itself as Buffalo's beer store, is drinking mightily from the water well.

"One lady came in and bought eight cases, and there's six gallons in each," said Steve Pacitti, who manages the Consumer's Beverages store on Transit Road in Williamsville. There has been no such jump in beer sales, he said, adding he wasn't sure why water is in such demand.

"I can see the power going out, but I don't see, at the stroke of midnight, brown water coming out of the tap," he said.

The other big sellers at Wegmans, according to McCarthy, are batteries -- up one-third from the same quarter last year -- and flashlights -- five times as many as were sold in December 1998.

Other than that, though, both McCarthy and Zakowicz said their markets haven't noticed any other staples selling in significantly larger volume. The same can't be said for portable generators and heaters.

At ABC Rental and Hardware on Bailey Avenue, company President Brett Begley said he started noticing "abnormal sales" of kerosene heaters in October.

"As a company, we'd normally sell a hundred a year," he said. "Right now we're over 400 units, and these things go for $139 apiece." Begley said he has also sold about four times the usual number of electric heaters.

Oil lanterns have also been popular. "That's something we might normally sell a half-dozen or so a year," he said. As for the 50 or so generators he rents, all were reserved by July.

People apparently want their water, and they want their power. Keith Soanes is assistant manager at Admar Supply Co., which sells generators to contractors.

"We've sold in the hundreds," he said, both to contractors and average consumers. "All I have left is some small portable generators. All the large equipment has been out for a week or two."

Arcade farmer John Johnson spent $15,000 on a generator. "You never know in this day and age," he said. "You've got to milk these cows every day."

Five-gallon gasoline cans have been the big seller at the Home Depot in Amherst, according to assistant store manager Brian Spence. "I just got them in (Wednesday) and all four area stores are already out. In the first 10 minutes, we sold 20."

Some drugstores anticipated a run on prescriptions, but it hasn't materialized.

"As far as prescriptions, our pharmacies are doing an excellent business, but nothing we can attribute to Y2K," said Michael Polzin, a corporate spokesman for Walgreen Drug Stores.

John Fiske, manager of the Walgreens on Delaware Avenue at North Street, said he hasn't noticed any food or water hoarding.

"The sales at the store haven't gotten stronger throughout the week," he said. "It's been pretty steady."

Nor has anyone been hoarding money, said HSBC spokeswoman Kathleen Rizzo Young.

"It's a typical Thursday," she said. "We're not even seeing any pre-weekend traffic yet. Last Thursday was busy because of Christmas, but we've been monitoring usage hourly for weeks and we're not seeing any out-of-the-ordinary volume."

So what happens if nothing happens? If you bought your items from ABC Rental, don't expect to be able to take them back. Begley said he marked all Y2K items with a special sticker explaining that there would be no returns, and made sure buyers understood the policy.

"Can you imagine me accepting these items Jan. 3?" he said. "It would put me out of business."

Spence said Home Depot can't do that. "I'll take care of my customers," he said, noting that the company guarantees "100 percent customer satisfaction."

There are no comments - be the first to comment